The beginning of my last blog was perhaps poorly put.
(Devan read it and said, "Babe, nobody really wants to know why you want to be a Buddhist.")
Devan is big on putting things in nutshells.
The fascination the study of this particular religion holds for me has something to do with the seeming reason of its core beliefs, or, the Four Truths as revealed to the Buddha underneath the Bo tree.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. I left Buddha in rags at the edge of a forest. That's no place to leave a sage. Guatama, being the Hindu he was, first set out to find two of the highest brahmins in the land and partake of their wisdom. He learned all he felt he could and apparently found that particular path a dead end, for he then took up with a band of ascetics.
This is telling to me. Asceticism developed self-denial to an end in itself. This tells me he was something of a legalist. If the answer could be found in denying your body or your mind any sensual pleasure, then Guatama's search would have ended here. If asceticism is the extreme of self-sacrifice, then Guatama became twice removed from indulgence. Possessing unbelievable willpower, he took to the spare lifestyle with characteristic intensity. One of his fasts put him on a diet of six grains of rice a day. Why bother? When he would reach to feel his stomach he would feel his spine. This went on until he grew so weak he fell into a faint, and if it hadn't been for a passing good Samaritan and a bowl of rice gruel (that sounds good, I think I'll go whip me up a big bowl of rice gruel) he likely would have died. What an epiphany that must have been. You're on the verge of discovering the secret of existence and you come to with a cowgirl spooning gruel into your mouth. "How came you to be lying in this field?" "I have fainted." "Why have you fainted?" "Well, it may or may not have had something to do with what I ate." "What was it you ate?" "Well, for breakfast I had. . .rice, two grains, for lunch I had. . . .uh, rice again, and supper, . . .I ate . . .rice." "And why, O skinny sage, would you try to exist on six grains of rice a day." "I'm a very wise man and I am on the verge of discovering the meaning of life, and if you hadn't started shoveling this-what is this, anyway, rice? Okay, that's all, brother."
I'm willing to bet he swore off of rice for a while. At any rate he discovered the inability of asceticism to bring enlightenment as well as the inability of six rice grains to sustain the body.
I'd like to draw a parallel here with a philosophical movement that confronted Paul, or rather, that Paul confronted, on Mars Hill.
The Epicureans were to asceticism what a modern Neo-Calvinist might be to a Puritan, or, what your average Bible Methodist (Ohio Connection) might be to a hard-shell Bible Missionary (Louisiana District).
My, my, aren't we glib today.
Epicureanism, oddly enough, is considered a form of hedonism, while implementing some milder forms of asceticism. This is what is known as eating your cake and having it. It is hedonistic in so far as it stresses pleasure as fulfillment, and ascetic because pleasure, as defined by Epicurus, is somewhat less sinful than you might expect. He defined pleasure as abstaining from bodily desires. Speaking for myself, I think he may have had that a little backwards. But, as with all doctrine or philosophy set apart from Jesus Christ, Epicureanism was rooted in pride and so blossomed into a non fruit-bearing humanism.
The Dali Lama is a Tibetan Buddhist. You may have recently seen a headline in which the esteemed lama proclaimed physical intimacy, monogamous or otherwise, to be nothing more than a distraction to one seeking enlightenment. In our sex drenched culture, this is nothing if not going against the flow. But any points given for resistance to the over-indulgence of sex are quickly stripped away by the stodgy Apostle Paul who considers forbidding of marriage a "-doctrine(s) of demons", fomented by "the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron." Paul, another big nutshell encapsulator, goes on to prophesy of "men who forbid marriage, abstaining from foods which" now hear this, "God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing (emphasis mine) is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude;"
Abstinence, of the sort promoted by the lama, is ascetic, and asceticism feeds on a monstrous spiritual pride, a vice that spans the entire spectrum of religious and secular humanity. Through self-denial, through your own efforts, you may become good.
Now, Epicureanism is ascetic, and Buddhism is technically not, but, in my mind, the two are lumped together in a class of philosophies that are characterized by those unable to hope in a benevolent Almighty, and/or unwilling to accept that Almighty's unconditional demands on their own will.
Which brings me to another Greek philosopher named Zeno.